Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Beautiful Words

Last night my son and I were talking about the Kitab-i-Iqan, the Book of Certitude. It was his 13th birthday and for some reason, we found ourselves talking about this marvelous book. There was something he asked about, I can't recall what it was, but I found myself talking about the wonder of the Guardian's translation.

Now, you have to understand, my son is bi-lingual. I am most definitely not, unless you count my ability to speak the native language of Jibr, Jibberish. He is fluent in both French and English, so he knows quite a bit about translation, even at the tender (read: awesome) age of 13. At least, he knows quite a bit more than I do about the difficulties involved in going between two languages.

Anyways, he asked me some question, and I found myself going to the bookshelf to get both the Kitab-i-Iqan that we know and love, and a copy of The Book of Ighan, an earlier translation of the same work. From there, we decided to compare the two translations.

What did we find? Well, here goes.

From The Book of Ighan:
The following chapter explains that verily the servants (of God) shall never attain to the shore of the Sea of Knowledge except by complete severance from all that is in the heavens and earth.
Sanctify yourselves O people of the earth, that perchance ye may attain to the station which God hath ordained for you and enter the tabernacle which God hath elevated in the Heaven of the Beyan.
From The Book of Certitude:
No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth. Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you and enter thus the tabernacle which, according to the dispensations of Providence, hath been raised in the firmament of the Bayan.
To start, he said that the while the first translation was good, as far as he knew, the second one was beautiful. I thought that was a good observation, and a good beginning.

The next thing we noticed was that the first translation seemed to be looking forward, explaining what we were going to see in the following pages. This, incidentally, was reinforced with the very next sentence, which began "The essence of this chapter is..." Again, it was looking forward to see where we were going.

Shoghi Effendi, however, translated that first paragraph as a passage unto itself. When you look at it in the book, it is in a different type-face, removed from the rest of the text like an introductory quote, or something. This difference is further demonstrated by the next sentence which starts "The essence of these words is this..." It's looking backwards. It draws our attention back to these opening words, further emphasizing their importance. And if you've ever read my blog on the Kitab-i-Iqan, you'll know how often throughout the text my friend and I refer back to this opening paragraph, seeing in it numerous clues as to how we should approach the rest of the text. This slight emphasis of the Guardian's has, for me at least, proven crucial to my reading of the whole text.

The next thing we noticed was the word "shore", or "shores". In the first translation it's singular, while it is plural in the second. This may not seem significant at first, but upon reflection the singular implies that there is only one correct perspective. It seems to say that there is a single shore that we are all trying to reach. The plural accommodates numerous perspectives. You and I, dear Reader, may both be on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and yet still be continents away from each other. We are still seeing the same body of water, just different parts of it. By translating this word as a plural, Shoghi Effendi is helping us see a greater breadth to this concept than we might have otherwise gotten.

And this leads us to the next difference. In the first translation, it is the Sea of Knowledge, while the second is the Ocean of True Understanding. A sea, as you know, is a lot smaller than an ocean, so once again the Guardian is expanding our vision. But it not just knowledge, this body of water, it is true understanding. This is important when you think about the difference between knowing something, like e=mc2, and truly understanding it. Understanding, especially true understanding, is far deeper than merely knowing.

This continues on to another difference, being severed from the world and being detached from it. When you are severed from something, there is no direct connection. There is a complete separation, a division. It implies that we are to have no connection whatsoever with the world around us. Shoghi Effendi, instead, chose to use the more unifying word "detached". In this context, it implies that there is a connection, but that you are objective about it. This distinction is crucial throughout Part 1, as we are regularly told to "consider the past" and reflect on what we already know and accept. We should, however, not be so attached to our perspective or interpretation that we close ourselves off to any other way of seeing. If there is any overarching theme in the first half of this book, I would say that this is it. Don't throw away all that you have learned in your life, both your knowledge and your experience, but instead use it while still keeping an open mind. God and history have led us to where we are today, and the lessons we can learn from the past are too numerous to count. And one of these great lessons is that we will always know more tomorrow than we do today, so never close yourself off to learning.

This leads us on to the next sentence, beginning with "sanctify". In the first case we are to sanctify ourselves, but Shoghi Effendi focuses us on sanctifying our souls. In the first case, it may be the body that we cleanse, or perhaps our mind, but in the second, it is particularly our souls with which we should be concerned. There is so much that can be said about this, but I am sure you already know it, dear Reader.

In the first translation, God has ordained for us a particular station. It is as if there is a command from on high that we must follow. It reads like a commandment. The second, in which God has destined for us this same station, it is something to which we are being led. The difference here, subtle as it is, is the same as being pushed from behind as opposed to drawn forward. In both cases we end up at the same point, but the second one is so much more in line with Baha'u'llah's teachings.

Finally, in both cases we are entering a tabernacle, the sacred tent containing the Holy of Holies. In the first case, though, it has been "elevated in the Heaven of the Beyan", while in the Guardian's translation it has "been raised in the firmament of the Bayan". What's the difference? Well, heaven, in most cases would be seen as a place. You can just picture this beautiful garden in which a big tent is raised. Nice as this is, it's not quite the best picture to convey what He is referring to. The Guardian chose to use the word "firmament", which is a bit different. It is the dome of the sky. It conveys a grandeur to the Bayan that heaven, on its own, does not. The former is a place that seems to be distant from here, while the latter covers and embraces all that we see. It is very intimately interconnected with this world, while at the same time being part of this otherworld, too.

In all cases, the Guardian continually broadened our vision with his choice of words, and reinforced an interconnectedness with everything around us, encouraging us, through his choice of terms, to be "intimately concerned" with what is going on in the world. Concerned, but still detached.

My son and I had no idea just how profoundly different Shoghi Effendi's translation would be, but upon reflection we both have a far deeper appreciation for his consummate skill as both a translator and an interpreter.

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